Opera Scotland

Demimondaine

Music

John Frederick Hudson

Text

James Kenon Mitchell

 

Premieres

First Performance: Aberdeen (St Andrew's Cathedral), 28 October 2016.

 

Background

Demimondaine is a piece by Aberdeen-based John Frederick Hudson, a composer, conductor, pianist and organist, studying for a PhD supervised by Paul Mealor and James MacMillan.

In one act, lasting around forty minutes, it consists of six brief episodes, or 'discourses', set in 1888, with a prologue in 1939 and epilogue combining both eras. All are located in the Paris apartment of Marthe de Florian. The work is composed for four solo singers accompanied by a chamber ensemble - string quintet, wind quartet, piano and two percussionists.

 

Characters

Madame Marthe de Florian, a courtesan (soprano)

Giovanni Boldini, a painter (baritone)

Solange Beaugiron, Marthe's granddaughter (mezzo-soprano)

Armand, Solange's friend (tenor)

 

Summary

The opening scene is located at the time of the outbreak of World War II, as the Germans invade Paris. Solange and Armand come to take a final farewell of the famous Boldini portrait of her grandmother painted half a century before.

Boldini persuades Madame de Florian to sit for a painting. A battle of wits develops, with the lady's desire being for immortality through her portrait. The artist's interests are rather more ephemeral.

The seduction gets under way as he places his subject in the best position. They reflect on the passage of time and how beauty eventually fades. He recognises that her character can be represented in more long-lasting ways, in thought and in song.

This sparks Marthe to think of a famous event some decades earlier. The Parisian ballerina Emma Livry, one of the greatest dancers of her day, danced too close to one of the onstage limelight burners. Her diaphanous costume erupted in flame and she died in agony. Marthe considers that men are generally to blame for igniting such flames.

The finale combines the two events in the apartment. Boldini completes the portrait after which he and Marthe make love. Solange and Armand meanwhile reflect on the immortality given to the subject by her portrait.

The Cast

Armand
 a friend of Solange
Giovanni Boldini
 a painter
Madame Marthe de Florian
 a courtesan
Solange Beaugiron
 Marthe de Florian's granddaughter

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